Three times in 18 months. That's how many times the residents of Raubsville, PA have lost everything. Everything. Lost to the raging confluence of the Delaware Canal and its big brother river.
"I don't know what to think. Is it global warming? Too much development?" said one resident, I'll call him Tom*, as he sat on the nearly washed out footbridge over the normally placid canal. He stared off at the muddy, oily-smelling water racing just inches below, reminscing about the newly seeded lawn he had planned to hold a July 4 party on. He was just about to move back into his home a year after the flood of April '05 devastated it and everything on Canal St. "We were about to say, 'We're back!'" he said, and shook his head.
Its the same up and down the river. Tom's neighbors spent much of today on the porch watching the water rise, and headed for dry land when it spilled into the first floor. Farther south in Upper Black Eddy, the brown rapids reached to the top of the Route 32 signs on River Rd and almost back to the canal. Yardley and Trenton waited tonight for the river to crest so residents could begin to estimate the damage. Over on the Schuylkill, in Pottstown and Phoenixville and Manayunk, it's more of the same. And we're in one of the lucky areas of Pennsylvania.
I went down to Raubsville today with Pastor Bill Rex and Linda Frey, two of the many Palisades Lutheran Cluster volunteers who've been helping people along the river put their lives back together since Hurricane Ivan "the terrible" baptized the area with a new sense of history in the fall of '04. It will be hard for them, and their fellow volunteers, to see the houses they've mucked and rebuilt once, if not twice, in ruins again. But that's nothing compared to the anguish riverside residents are feeling.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Tom says as he nurses the bandaged hand hurt while rushing to get belongings out of his house, again. His pain is obvious as he talks about the neighbors who have moved on in the wake of the first and second storms, and he wonders how many will stay after Number Three. But he offers a positive spin on his ongoing battle with old man river.
"When the church came down here," he says, nodding to Rex and Frey, "it was beautiful. Going through this is hard, and it was just so important to us to know we weren't going through this alone."
In the midst of an unprecedented series of storms, in low lying strips of land waiting for the Delaware to recede, conversation and construction has made for incarnational ministry -- and it will again. By next weekend volunteers will be mobilizing to once again fill dumpsters with soggy insulation and wallboard, and more priceless memories reduced to pulp. And in the booted feet and gloved hands and masked faces of the volunteers, Christ will again be with those in need. And it will, in Tom's words, be beautiful.
It's pouring again in Bucks County, and the National Weather Service has just added insult to injury, issuing another flash flood warning. Lord, have mercy!
* Not his real name.
P.S. -- My colleague Kay Braun wrote a great prayer that we've distributed to congregations for use this Sunday.
P.P.S. -- I'll try to find time to post some pictures tomorrow.